Salman & Shah Rukh Were Like a House On Fire In ‘Zero’: Aanand Rai
What was it like to work with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan together? Filmmaker Aanand L Rai tells all.
From Tanu Weds Manu to Mukkabaaz, filmmaker Aanand L Rai has been associated with films that deliver more than what they promise. As a director, Aanand is currently working on the most ambitious film of his career - Zero, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma with a cameo by Salman Khan. He’s also backing Meri Nimmo, an unusual love story, to be released on an online platform.
In a brief chat with The Quint, Aanand shares what drew him to Meri Nimmo, his success mantra, working with Shah Rukh Khan on Zero and everything in between.
Q: Meri Nimmo is the story of an 8-year-old boy who is infatuated with an older girl. Was it the exploration of this unconventional love story that drew you to the film?
Aanand L Rai: Well, it was the innocence and purity that drew me towards this film. The idea of catching on to a slice of life from your past is what struck me. The film has a great nostalgic value. In fact, when I heard the story and I went back in my time... something said to me, ‘Yes, there was a Nimmo!’ Her name may not be Nimmo, but I was Hemu to somebody. And deep down even if you think if it subconsciously, you will find a Hemu around you. If not so directly, indirectly you are somebody’s Nimmo!
Q: Is it true that Dhanush has a cameo in the film? Do you think it takes a big star to support smaller movies such as these?
Aanand L Rai: Dhanush doesn’t have a cameo in this film. Yes, we were planning to. But then we sat, discussed and eventually decided not to have it. Simply because, I don’t want pure stories to be handicapped in a way that they can only surpass the hurdles of pulling in an audience if you have a star. It is the content what matters. Even if the film is small, stay original. Stay loyal. And I am not talking about returns, I am talking about reaching.
Q: You can make hits of even unusual subjects like the love story of a child and an older girl or even erectile dysfunction for that matter... is picking up out-of-the-box story ideas your success mantra?
Aanand L Rai: There is no strategy or mathematics to this! Ke yaar yeh banate hai, yeh audience ko pasand aayegi. Idhar approach iss tarah se karte hai. Ek halka sa yeh wala angle daalte hai. Nahi! The only thing you must take care of is the heart of the story. Agar dil sahi jagah hai, toh wahi baat pohunchegi. But if that’s not happening then stop and think. Are you pure enough to deal with this story? And that is where a Nimmo or a Zero or a Shubh Mangal Savdhan or a Newton will start.
Q: From Tanu Weds Manu and its sequel to Raanjhanaa, Nil Battey Sannata, Newton and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, the films you’ve directed and produced have broken new ground. Is there now a pressure to deliver something new every time?
Aanand L Rai: I have no pressure of delivering. If I was working with that state of mind, I would be an utter failure. On the contrary, I am enjoying it. For a matter of fact, Zero is such a heavy film and I am full of emotions right now. I am taking off for my last lap tomorrow and will finish my film in the next 20 days. Right now, I am 110% into Zero, but there is something for Nimmo inside me. If you ask me is it tiring, I’d say, ‘Yes, it is tiring.’ But if you ask me if I am tired, I’d say, ‘No!’
Q: Speaking of Zero, tell us about the film, firstly, why the title Zero?
Aanand L Rai: I want the curiosity to remain. But all I can tell you is, in this film I wanted to celebrate a ‘Zero’, I wanted to celebrate the incompleteness in people. There is this uncanny beauty to it and we all are human beings and that’s where Zero comes from.
Q: How was your experience of working with Shah Rukh Khan? How difficult was it to get him on board for the role of a dwarf?
Aanand L Rai: He is a great actor and a great human being. It was not at all difficult to get him on board. In fact, we clicked from day one. We had a great understanding and he is a great team member. More than an actor he is like a big brother here, taking care of lots of things. We have emotional support for each other and more than anything else, we are having fun! What he likes coming from me is when I say, ‘Mauj aani chahiye!’ He loves that phrase. And I promise Zero is full of mauj.
Q: Salman is reportedly doing a cameo in Zero - how was the experience of working with both Salman and Shah Rukh Khan on a set - I believe there is a dance sequence that features the two of them?
Aanand L Rai: I enjoyed working with the two of them. Shah Rukh and Salman together were a house on fire. More than directing them, it was just fun watching the two of them. I was like a fan boy there. Both have great energy on the floor and they are such lovable people, that everyone must see them together.
Q: You are now moving into the digital space with Meri Nimmo - do you think OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Eros Now are eating into the market share of the regular film going audience?
Aanand L Rai: Right now, they are not. But I’m sure sooner or later they will. So as filmmakers we must take care of our cinematic approach. We need to create and deliver films which requires the big canvas. But, I also believe the two can co-exist. A maker needs to understand the format and the content. One must research on their viewers and what they want. Television, cinema and digital all are different mediums, where different kinds of stories are told in different spaces. It will definitely take a while for everyone to adapt to the change, but this is the new beast in the market and we should start feeding this beast with great content.
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